What’s “Hard Work” To a Conservative President?

In thinking a bit more about the Romney campaign’s “Obama Isn’t Working” slogan, as amplified by Romney’s own criticism of the incumbent for allegedly poor work habits, I keep wondering why “hard work” is a particularly high priority for the kind of president conservatives think we should have.

I mean, really: to limited government devotees, the signature of a righteous chief executive would be inaction. Since government plays no positive role in the economy, the president’s job on that front is to get out of the way and let “job creators” work their magic. How hard is it to not invest in infrastructure or schools, to devolve as many government responsibilities as possible to lower levels of goverment or to the private sector, and to sign executive orders suspending most regulations? For the most part, the heavy lifting, such as it is, would be done by a Republican Congress; most decisions could be accomplished simply by letting Congress pass and then implement the Ryan Budget. Health care would be “addressed” by disabling the implementation of ObamaCare, which Mitt Romney has repeatedly said he’d do on his first day in office. Even if you believe Romney and other Republicans actually have their own agenda of “health reform,” it’s mostly just a matter of replacing today’s health care deduction for employers with a tax credit for individuals, and then passing one bill allowing interstate insurance sales; the “market” (i.e., the rush of insurers to states with little or no regulation) will take care of the rest, and besides, it’s not the federal government’s job to make sure everyone has health insurance, right?

On the international front, a President Romney would save a lot of time and cost by not having to race around the world “apologizing” for America’s non-existent misdeeds, or courting allies we don’t really need. Now it is true that recent Republican presidents have had a bad habit of starting or escalating wars, which do take some time and effort to prosecute. If Mitt decided, as he occasionally hints at, that he’d “win” the war in Afghanistan, or take up arms against Iran, that could put a lot of meetings and travel and public appearances on his schedule, without question. Now some conservatives continue to labor under the impression that big defense budgets, a posture of aggressive truculence, or the deployment of overwhelming force can generally make military conflicts either avoidable or brief. George W. Bush, not known as a workaholic, may have thought that with respect to Iraq, which is why he was so quick to declare the mission accomplished, complete with the astounding spectacle of landing a jet on an aircraft carrier to take credit personally (now that was hard work indeed, at least for the evil genius who thought up the stunt!).

All in all, though, there’s a reason many thoughtful conservatives look back to Silent Cal Coolidge as the beau ideal for the presidency, beyond the fact that he presided, albeit passively, over a federal government with none of the powers and services Americans became used to after the New Deal.

Obama isn’t working? Well, if he were the kind of president most conservatives say he should be, there would be plenty of time for vacations and golf and shooting hoops and all those other pursuits that offend Mitt Romney. As for Mitt, if he is elected with a solidly Republican Congress, he should be able to whip through his governing agenda in 100 days or so, and maybe then it would be appropriate for him to declare his own “mission accomplished,” perhaps striding back to Bain Capital to resume the critical work of creative destruction and turning the Oval Office over to Vice President Ryan or Portman or Rubio or whoever the conservative movement allows him to put on the ticket.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.